The immediate future of the music industry seems to be fairly clear, but the American film and publishing industries await new technologies (high definition DVD's and the Sony Reader, respectively) to inject new life and profits into their businesses; otherwise they're clinging to old business models. Meanwhile the British are busy forging a new publishing model, one closer to the reading and networking habits of the MySpace generation. Sam Jordison sees the one-woman publishing house Social Disease as a harbinger of what could be the future of publishing.
Social Disease is run by Heidi James, who dismisses Zadie Smith and Monica Ali, the current doyennes of the British lit scene, as "boring." James is particularly disdainful of the publishing establishment that markets gentle post-ironic fiction, positioning Social Disease as the publisher for readers and writers who "feel alienated by a publishing world dominated by marketing." The keys to Social Disease's mission to publish energetic new fiction is print-on-demand technology and some MySpace groups, primarily the Brutalists and the Offbeat Generation. Their downcast bohemianism and lack of editorial supervision means wildly uneven work, but the real promise of the Social Disease model is the viral networking possibilities offered by the Internet, with print-on-demand technology standing by to deliver books to any surfers whose interest has been piqued.
Jordison likens a lot of the rough and ready products of the MySpace gangs to "mini-zine literature that used to be sold in places like the ICA and Tate Modern shop." This is probably not a good thing. Furthermore, the predicament faced by online authors dates back to the British Romantics. The rise of mass printing technology in the early nineteenth century led to a tricky question for Wordsworth and the Romantics: Is popularity a criterion for poetic excellence? Previously the best poets were the ones whose manuscripts were circulated most widely among readers, and the new print technologies would seem to expand the realm of circulation far beyond what earlier poets had enjoyed. However, Wordsworth and his fellow Romantics found themselves writing for a narrow clique of readers just as the national readership was expanding rapidly. Coleridge tried to explain that small readerships meant a poetry of "kindred feeling" could flourish. But Edmund Burke mockingly predicted such narrowcasted writings made possible by mass printing would eventually lead to "sects of one." Even as Wordsworth tried to tap into the new mass audience Shelley lamented that Wordsworth no longer shared "common woes" with his original readership. Byron groused that Wordsworth had gotten"dull." Of course, because they had a genuinely new aesthetic the Romantics eventually ensured their place in the canon and continue to enjoy respectable sales. One wonders how far the second-hand Bukowskisms proffered by the MySpace writers can extend themselves to a wider readership.